Executive Director of the Hill Country Alliance

In this issue’s Q&A, Texas+Water Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Todd Votteler, interviews Katherine Romans, Executive Director of the Hill Country Alliance, a regional nonprofit focused on protecting the water, land, communities and night skies of the Texas Hill Country. She has more than a decade of nonprofit and legislative experience in natural resource issues and holds a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Romans serves on the board of the Hill Country Land Trust and is the inaugural chair of the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network steering committee.

What is the mission and history of the Hill Country Alliance (HCA)?
The Hill Country Alliance was founded 14 years ago by a group of neighbors concerned about unplanned and unmanaged growth in western Travis County, just outside of Bee Cave, Texas. These neighbors knew firsthand what prolific development meant for the resources that define the Hill Country. They had seen creeks choked with sediment and construction runoff, their view of the Milky Way clouded by light pollution, and the scenic vistas of their neighborhood transformed overnight by new rooftops and billboards.

2019 Hill Country Alliance Board past and present.

From day one, HCA has focused on creating a vision for the Hill Country we will hand down to future generations. With innovation, leadership, and community, we know that we can accommodate the growth coming to Central Texas while protecting our natural resources, rather than undermining them. From our grassroots beginnings, our organization has grown to work across 17 counties of Central Texas, from Austin to San Antonio, Uvalde, Junction and Mason.
Our mission is to bring together an ever-expanding alliance of groups throughout a multi-county region of Central Texas with the long-term objective of preserving open spaces, water supply, water quality and the unique character of the Texas Hill Country. It’s a big objective, but we certainly aren’t alone in our work. Every victory is a reflection of the incredible leadership of the organizations, businesses, landowners, volunteers and elected officials we work with throughout this region
What are some of HCA’s most significant accomplishments?
We have a lot to be proud of in our work over the past 14 years. We have grown tremendously as an organization, from a single full-time executive director to a staff of seven. Our supporter list across the region is 10,000 strong, and we have deep connections to local community members, volunteers, and elected officials from every corner of the Hill Country. We are seen as a regional convener, a trusted idea broker, and a thought leader. Groups from other parts of Texas and the country are looking at the collaborative efforts in the Hill Country as models to replicate.
Thanks to HCA’s work, 13 of the 17 counties of our region have passed resolutions supporting the night skies. Just this month we saw the formalization of a groundwater conservation district in southwest Travis County—something we and our partners have been pushing for more than a decade. We connect annually with more than a thousand landowners to provide technical support and access to stewardship and financial resources. We have seen monumental investments in land conservation over the past 14 years—from Austin and Travis County to Hays County and San Antonio. We are providing critical capacity to emergent organizations and coalitions, including the many organizations that have formed within the past few years to oppose the growing aggregate industry in the Hill Country.
None of these accomplishments were achieved alone. HCA is only as strong as our network of partners, working collaboratively to share lessons learned, increase our impact, and improve our effectiveness for the future of the Hill Country. Most recently, HCA has been serving as a backbone organization for the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network (the Network), a new initiative that has elevated our collaboration even further by engaging 75 nonprofit and governmental partners in a more formal structure with a shared strategic plan and six actionable goals.
Read more from Texas + Water’s Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Todd Votteler, here.